In my endeavors to explore Southern California's lesser-known gems, I've developed quite an affinity for the rustic charm of 123 Farm in Cherry Valley. When I received an email that the Sheep Shearing Festival was approaching, I knew I wanted to attend, since I always enjoy their Lavender Festival so much.
My friends Mariah and Stefani agreed to accompany me on this rustic day trip, furthering our inside joke of "wholesome fun." I have personally felt that most ideas of fun for young adults involves heavy drinking, late nights, provocative outfits and club-like atmospheres. For me and my friends, this is not appealing, so we have been developing our own kind of "wholesome fun," going on adventures that don't necessarily fit the mold we always see on social media. What's more wholesome than sheep?
Serendipitously, we made our plans for a Saturday that turned out to be the first day of Spring - the perfect day to enjoy nature and visit a bustling farm. Bright and early, 6AM to be exact, I drove out to Riverside to meet Stefani and Mariah. Stefani was kind enough to drive us for the day, since she was the closest to our desired destinations.
A little past 7AM, we began our drive under a gray sky teasing rain. Eventually, commercial businesses became scarce, the temperature fell, and bright red apple-shaped signs welcomed us to Oak Glen.
We arrived at Oak Tree Mountain and were ready for a hearty breakfast at Apple Annie's. The string lights, roaming peacocks and adorable decor was a sight for sore eyes. Since the last time Stefani and I were there, Apple Annie's had adapted to the current CDC safety guidelines. All orders had to be taken prior to seating, plastic-wrapped utensils were available, dividers were put up between booths, and drinks were served in disposable cups.
Because we arrived right at opening, we were the only guests at the restaurant for quite a while. The temperature was under 50° so we decided to sit inside. I ordered ham and eggs, Mariah ordered steak and eggs, Stefani ordered an omelette, and we all decided to split the Oreo-stuffed French toast.
The savory dishes were wonderful, but the real star of the show was that french toast. It was absolutely heavenly!
When we were done, we headed to the bakery to pick up some treats and spontaneously decided to stop by a local vendor fair we had passed by.
There were so many wonderful, handmade items! I snagged a handmade apron from one vendor and quickly became enamored with a booth selling handmade bath bombs, soaps and other fun bath and body creations.
I ended up buying one of those gorgeous bath bomb donuts, along with a Eucalyptus mint shower melt. If you want to support, you can shop online here.
With our wallets ever so slightly lighter, we walked back to Oak Tree Mountain and visited some cuddly creatures at the petting zoo.
Once we had gotten our fair share of pets and cooing over the adorable farm animals, we made our way to our last Oak Glen stop before heading out to Cherry Valley.
The last time I was in Oak Glen, I did not get a chance to visit Snowline Orchard, so I made a point to stop by this time. With a gorgeous mountainous backdrop and ever-changing rolling fog, we browsed the Snowline Orchard shop, enjoyed the grounds and I lived vicariously through Stefani and Mariah as they indulged in fresh apple cider mini donuts (I have an apple allergy so I could not partake).
With noon just around the corner, we decided to head over to the Sheep Shearing Festival.
I am consistently surprised on the drive to 123 Farm, through residential neighborhoods peppered with the occasional expansive yard complete with horses. I've always found this area fascinating, a combination of country living and livestock with a more traditional suburban setting.
Admission to the festival was $12, and I had purchased tickets for our date online. Parking was a little more chaotic this time around - during the Lavender Festival, most parking is free street parking. This time, we paid $5 to park on the premises, which sounds more convenient but that's only until I mention the narrow roads, high volume of pedestrians and unmarked, unpaved lots.
We made our way to the main part of the festival, admiring the joyful atmosphere and vintage tunes being played throughout the grounds. The innumerable brightly colored pompoms brought a childlike energy against the off and on overcast sky.
While some may believe this is an odd sight, I loved that the event had the sheep in the main festival area. It was the perfect reminder that although 123 Farm puts on incredibly stylish events, it is still in fact a working farm. We stopped for a moment to watch a sheep shearing demonstration and were impressed by the skill and efficiency of the process. A city girl like me hardly has opportunities to see things like this first hand.
123 Farm never disappoints with their trendy marketing and thoughtful designs, but they also never fail to educate their guests. "Farm to table" takes on many different meanings when you are interacting directly with the farm, learning about processing, and enjoying finished products.
Those products were showcased throughout the festival, especially in the "Baazaar." Farm favorites like lavender skincare, a plethora of flavored olive oils, totes and more were on display and available for purchase.
We then signed up for a 3PM sheep feeding and then made our way to the eatery.
Covid-19 safety protocols have obviously changed the way we experience ordinary tasks, like ordering and picking up food. 123 Farm adapted to the new normal by creating a safer experience for both guests and staff. At other festivals, there are freestanding booths with different menu options, but this time there was a single eatery with an order line and a pick-up area.
Because of my allergy limitations, there was not a huge selection of options for me, but I ordered the grilled lamb burger on brioche bun with lavender onion jam, wild arugula and tzatziki sauce with rosemary garlic fries burger. Normally this is served with goat cheese, but I asked for none. Stefani ordered the Shepherd's Pie (ground lamb, root vegetables cooked in a rich tomato sauce*, covered with creamy mashed potato and sourdough bread crumbs), and Mariah went with a traditional but freshly handmade sourdough pepperoni pizza.
123 Farm events always have delightful beverages, so I treated myself to a lavender iced tea, and Mariah went with the daily artisanal offering - an orange soda made in-house. Of course, I couldn't resist dessert so I also added a fun sheep-decorated sugar cookie.
The menus at these events aren't terribly extensive, but that's because everything is made in-house, including the very popular sourdough. Rustic is honestly the most appropriate word I would use to describe their food.
We enjoyed our farm to table meal under the olive trees, our food atop a gorgeous hard wood table, no doubt made by a skilled artisan.
When 3PM rolled around, we excitedly made our way to the meeting point for our sheep feeding activity.
Even though I've been to this farm several times, I'd never ventured past the main areas, especially where the lavender grows. I'd only been to the thousand year old oak tree once, and that's a bit of a walk in itself. We continued down unpaved dirt roads until we arrived at the sheep's home.
This time, we were lead past the famous tree and out to the 70-acre pasture behind the farm. I never even realized this was part of the property. The clouds finally broke up and the expansive land full of lush green rolling hills was incredibly picturesque against the blue sky.
Our guide gave us some guidelines before leading us through the fence and to a smaller enclosure. Olive branches from the grounds were already provided, and our guide explained them as a medicinal treat for the sheep - one that would be enjoyable but also provide health benefits for the sheep.
Olive branches in hand, we all entered the enclosure and waited for our furry friends to come up to us and snack. Petting was not encouraged, as these animals were considered 'wild' and were not petting zoo animals. It was such a fun experience!
Stepping foot into a real farm to feed livestock was a very special experience. Watching the sheep and their mannerisms was very interesting, as was the llama that kept an eye on all of us...
When we were done and the olive branches were bare, we walked back to the main farm area and took some last fun photos before we went back home.
Overall, we had an incredible time getting away from the city and interacting with nature, in more ways than one. From Oreo-stuffed French toast to feeding sheep, we shared a unique Southern California experience during a time where joy is scarce.
I hope some of you make your way out to Oak Glen or an event in Cherry Valley!
Until next time,